March 29, 2015

WELL PLAYED TEAM INDIA

A FAIRY TALE JOURNEY COMES TO AN END

Courtesy: Times of India
Days before the Men in Blue took on their arch rivals across the border in their World Cup opener, most of the fans and former cricketers had virtually written them off. In the aftermath of the disastrous tour Down Under where India lost the Border-Gavaskar trophy 2-0 to Australia and then failed to qualify for the finale of the ODI tri-series, not many would have expected the Indians to finish as one of the four semi-finalists in this edition of the Cricket World Cup. However, as they say, "Cometh the hour, cometh the man". In this case though, it was not one man, but a team of 15 men who brought joy to a cricket crazy nation of over a billion. The Indians dominated the Pool B vanquishing all their opponents including a mercurial Pakistani side, routing pre-tournament favorites South Africa and seeing off the challenge posed by the West Indies. Though the quarter-finals against Bangladesh was mired in controversy thanks to umpiring blunders, there was no doubt as to which was the better team on that day. Though the fairy-tale ended with a massive 95 runs defeat against a strong Australian team, the Indians could still hold their heads high; after all, they had played superb cricket throughout the tournament.

Perhaps, the biggest revelation of the series, from the Indian perspective was our bowling. What was suppose to be our Achilles heel turned out to be the most potent weapon in our arsenal. Mohammed Shami was the pick of the bowlers for me, finishing with 17 wickets in the 7 matches that he played with an enviable average of 17.29. Umesh Yadav who bagged 18 scalps in the tournament, including a four wicket haul against the mighty Australian line up ended as the third highest wicket taker in the series. One aspect that the pacer from UP can improve upon is his tendency to bowl at least one 'bad' ball per over. Meanwhile Mohit Sharma who got a break after Ishant was ruled out of the world cup due to an injury, justified his selection into the side by maintaining the pressure that the strike bowlers had built up during their opening spell. Ravi Ashwin too was spot on; he was amongst the top three spinners of the tournament behind Vettori and Tahir. In fact, India was the only team to take all the wickets in the first seven matches they played. Moreover, two of our fast bowlers or as the critics call them 'medium pacers', namely Yadav and Shami feature amonsgt the top five wicket takers of the series. And for your information, there was just one Indian batsman in the list of top five batsmen in the 2015 edition of the World Cup. Surprising, isn't it?

Apart from our bowling, our fielding during the course of the world cup was spectacular to say the least. Diving, sliding and direct hits have never been our forte in the past. However, one of the reasons for us to make it so far in the tournament was our excellent fielding. Perhaps, the one moment that epitomizes the high standards that the Indians displayed throughout the tournament was the run out of A B de Villiers due to an bullet like throw from Mohit Sharma along the boundary line in our second group match. Other highlights during the world cup include Jadeja's run out of Imrul Kayes and Dhawan's juggling act to send back the in-form Mahmudullah in the quarters.

India has always been known for producing some of the best batsmen in the world. Be it the textbook of batting - Sunil Gavaskar or the Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar, our batting has been our USP and has won us a lot of matches. Coming to the 2015 World Cup, four of our batters - Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli scored centuries in the tournament. Serious questions were raised over the form of Shikhar Dhawan before the tournament; however, the southpaw answered his detractors by finishing as the fifth highest run getter in the tournament, scoring 412 runs at an average of a little over 51, including two centuries. Raina's century against Zimbabawe and his innings against Pakistan were a treat to the eyes. Though there is no doubt that our batters did well, in my opinion, they did not realize their full potential on the big stage. Rohit took ages to finally break free, Virat failed to live up to the expectation after that century against Pakistan in the opener whereas Rahane too could have done much more.

MSD, possibly playing in his last ODI world cup proved why he is the greatest captain in the history of Indian cricket. He marshaled his troops well. To be frank, I think that the team that won the holy grail in 2011 was far stronger than this one. In spite of this, Dhoni led from the front and his tactics were largely responsible for us doing so well in this series. Again, one aspect that he could have done better was team selection. It was heartening to see the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Axar Patel and Stuart Binny just warming the benches throughout the tournament. I mean, these guys could have at least got an opportunity against the lesser teams like UAE or Zimbabwe, especially after it was pretty much clear that we were sure to finish at the top in our pool. With Rohit Sharma failing to make an impact, Rayudu should have got a call whereas Jadeja's indifferent performance should have led to the selection of Binny, a player who was picked ahead of Yuvraj.

There are a list of the things that the team could have done better. But then, the big picture is that we played well, just like the defending champs. Of course, we failed to make it two times in a row. However, the good part is that we did not surrender the trophy tamely, as many expected. There were lots of people who said and wrote a lot of things of how the Men in Blue had let the country down. However, the truth was that team played some very exciting cricket and tried their very best against a well balanced Australian side which was far better than us. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of the fans felt this way. Well played, Team India! We are still proud of you guys!